Michea Bonilla

@michea-bonilla | contributor
I am a trans man who hails from southern Oregon. I work as a freelance writer and photographer, as well as work as a volunteer activist. I create whimsical clay creations and make YouTube videos on social issues.
Michea Bonilla

Getting Disability Benefits for Mental Illness

I have been in and out of therapy since I was 6 years old, and my diagnoses often changed depending on who I saw and what their area of focus was. At this time I am diagnosed with major depressive disorder (my first diagnosis), ADD/ADHD, PTSD, and finally borderline personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder. At one point I was also diagnosed with bipolar type II and schizoaffective disorder, though those have since been ruled out and replaced with borderline and paranoid personality disorders. To most of the world I appeared to be someone who was well educated, who had for the most part been able to function within society for the majority of my adult life, and who could put on the appearance of being in control of what was going on around them. Unfortunately all of that was a mask that was quickly crumbling away. I often likened it to holding a glass ball in my hands, and that ball was filled with sand. There were tiny little cracks in the ball, but so long as I kept tight control and didn’t let anything shift, only a grain or two would fall out each year. The amount of control I was having to exert was a double-edged sword that left me needing to exert more and more control each year while also making the cracks grow bigger, leading to more grains falling out. The harder I tried to keep control and keep the sand inside, the worse I made things. In 2013 the ball finally shattered, leaving me unable to function without help from my husband and family. I was in crisis and yet it felt as if I couldn’t get the help I needed no matter where I turned. At one point my intrusive thoughts became so overpowering I committed myself to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. Unfortunately that only made things worse (as did the doctors not listening to me about my medications) and I had my husband check me out the next day. I applied for Social Security Disability in 2013, two years after I’d lost my last job due to mental health issues and after I’d had multiple episodes during my attempts to go to college. At 30 years old I knew I had an uphill fight trying to prove I couldn’t work, even though I had held over 15 jobs in under 10 years, most of which I left due to mental health reasons or was fired due to mental health issues making me unable to continue the job. In one case I was fired due to a fellow employee intentionally triggering my PTSD and me responding by physically hitting them to get them away from me. After filling out the questionnaire with the help of my husband, I received my first denial. I filed my first appeal and received the notification that I needed to be evaluated by a psychiatrist as well as have a physical done. I assumed when I received this notification that all of the medical records, including my psychiatric records, would be sent to the medical professionals and they would review them before the meeting. That was a mistake. When I met with the psychiatrist he asked me the usual questions: remember the words pen, apple, and cup, draw a square on a piece of paper, count backwards by sevens from 100, questions I was more than familiar with due to my years of receiving psychiatric care. He then asked me to tell him about my medical history. I gave him as much detail as I could, highly irritated that I was having to cover information that was in my file, and by the time I was done with that he notified me that my time was up, as we only had an hour. I was flabbergasted that this person would only spend an hour with me, and that was apparently enough for him to make a decision on my mental health and stability. He told me that I most likely had bipolar disorder type II, even though I constantly denied symptoms of mania outside of hyper anger or hyper emotion, even though I told him my diagnoses were listed in my chart and bipolar had been ruled out. I felt like he’d made up his mind and I wasn’t being listened to. We hadn’t even covered half of what I was going through, nor had we even covered any history past my 24th birthday. Most of my diagnoses were made after that point, and yet since the hour was up he was done. It was then that I learned just how easy it was to slip through the cracks when it came to applying for disability. If you didn’t have some sort of blatant disability that could be seen for miles around, you would have to fight tooth and nail just to be heard. Even though I literally could not function for more than a few hours a day at best, even though I could not handle being around other people, even though there was no way I could hold down steady employment, this one hour meeting with a person I’d never met before landed me with my second denial. I filed my second appeal, meaning this time my case would go before a judge, and found a lawyer to help me. I will forever be thankful for the work that my lawyer and his wife did, even though the judge decided I wasn’t disabled. I will discuss that more later. Due to another psychotic episode, my lawyer filed to have me re-evaluated and I found myself once again sitting in front of the man who had decided my fate. This time I was a lot more forceful, knowing I was on a time limit. I told him I already knew the words he wanted me to remember due to being asked them so many times, so he needed to come up with others. I informed him that he had not gotten the entirety of my medical history due to how expansive it was. I told him he’d given me a diagnosis that had been ruled out multiple times in favor of borderline. Only then did I feel he was listening to me as I told him about my symptoms and what I dealt with on a day-to-day basis. I told him about the hallucinations, both auditory and visual. I told him about the intrusive thoughts that told me to harm myself or others, leading me to internalize those feelings and harm myself. I told him about the nightmares that left me often without sleep for days on end. I told him about my PTSD and my fears of being around other people to the point I would become hostile to keep them away. I placed all of my cards on the table, refusing to stop until he had heard everything I needed to tell him. I walked out of that meeting with a new diagnosis, paranoid personality disorder comorbid with borderline personality disorder. He stated to me that people with comorbid (simultaneous) personality disorders often had trouble holding down a job except in very specific situations, and even then it often wasn’t for very long. He wished me the best, and agreed with me that one hour is nowhere near enough time to get a good feel for a person and their mental state or abilities. Unfortunately due to “budget cuts” and “streamlining” the process an hour was all I would be given, as opposed to the several hours one used to get. The day of my hearing came and I sat before a television screen doing my best to not squirm and to stay focused. I struggled to keep my legs still so I wouldn’t shake the microphones. I tried to answer the questions the judge asked me, but the entire time I felt she had made up her mind before we’d even sat down. She spoke with the social worker, providing restrictions that had been listed by the psychiatrist, asking if he could find any jobs I could do. The restrictions were little to no interaction with coworkers (none if possible), ability to take breaks as needed, ability to work at own pace, and a few others that essentially boiled down to me being left alone to work during my shift. Both my lawyer and I noticed she left out two restrictions, specifically no interaction with supervisors or superiors, and at the same time the need for constant supervision to remain on task. Without those two restrictions the social worker found two jobs, a bus washer and industrial laundry. I’d worked industrial laundry before and knew it required constant interaction and communication with coworkers, but was afraid to speak up and couldn’t find a time to get in a word. My lawyer asked the social worker to include the two restrictions the judge had left out, and the social worker stated there were no jobs I could work with those restrictions. While it could have just been my perception, I felt as if the judge was annoyed by this. The letters from friends, family, and former coworkers were also ignored, with her instead favoring portions of the psychiatrist’s evaluation. I still had hope that I would receive a favorable ruling. It was 2016 and I had been fighting my case for three years. I received the ruling in January of 2017. The judge essentially decided that I was too disabled to work, but not disabled enough to get help. She cited the two jobs the social worker had listed as jobs I could work, showing me she had in fact made up her mind before sitting down with us, and that she was ignoring the evaluation as well as the restrictions by a medical professional. She’d ignored all of the letters, the documentation from my doctors, all of it. Because I could fix basic meals and I could clothe and bathe myself, I wasn’t disabled in her eyes. I was given the option to appeal or start over again. The problem with starting over was that the judge and the people who processed Social Security claims had run out the clock on my insurance, meaning if I reapplied I would not receive any of the back pay I was owed. My only choice was then to appeal, and then like all the other times, sit and wait. I wouldn’t hear a thing until I either received a notice that I was being given a new hearing, they were overturning the decision, or they were agreeing. Since I filed my appeal I have attempted to find work, but either my mental health issues have stopped me, or they have seen my extensive job history and my three firings and politely turned me down. Even in jobs where they stated no experience was necessary, I have been turned down for some unnamed reason. Because I fell through the cracks in the system, I am left relying on others to stay alive. Because of the cuts to how the decision is made (cutting down the amount of time a mental health provider sees someone), I was unable to give an accurate telling of what I dealt with, and even after a second visit knew that there was more that needed to be covered. Because I didn’t appear disabled “enough” to the judge, I was tossed aside. I have been out of work since 2011. I have had to rely on my husband and on student loans I will most likely never be able to repay to survive. All because I slipped through the cracks.

Michea Bonilla

Society Needs to Support Children Who Have Been Sexually Abused

Editor’s Note: The names of the children in this piece have been changed to protect their privacy. If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 . Thump. Stumbling through the mental fog that fills my head when I fall asleep, I struggle to figure out the source of the sound. Thump. There it is again, clearer this time as I open my eyes. Sitting up, I look around my dimly lit room, the lamp by my desk shining feebly in the darkness. Thump. Worry begins to fill me as I slip on my glasses, my feet protesting as they touch the cold, hard floor. Thump. I stagger around the basket of half folded laundry at the foot of my bed and make my way to the door, trying to shake that last niggling bit of sleep from my brain. Thump. “What’s going on, dear?” asks my husband, the din waking even him from his quiet snoring. Without answering, I open the door and step on to the carpet in front of my youngest step-daughter’s room. Thump. “It’s coming from Li’s room.” I call back, gently opening the door and peering into a room that is lit with string upon string of multicolored Christmas lights. I can see her thrashing about on her bed, whimpering quietly as her feet slam against the wall, as if she’s trying to flee from some unknown assailant. I move forward as quickly as I can through the debris that seems to always make up a teenager’s room — books, clothes and other unknown items litter the floor, taking every chance they can get to make me regret not putting on a pair of slippers. Reaching Li’s bed, I gently shake her. “Li, sweetie, wake up. Sweeie, please wake up,” I quietly plead. A feeling of relief fills me as her eyes fly open, quickly replaced once again with worry as her eyes dart around the room. She throws herself into my arms, sobbing and clinging to me as if I was the only thing that could protect her from whatever she was running from. “I can’t get away.” she sobs. “They just keep coming… I don’t want them to hurt me again, Mommy.” With my heart breaking, I do my best to soothe her as my husband stands helplessly at the door. Neither of us can help our little girl, leaving us, as well as her, at the mercy of the men who harmed her years before. The men might be sitting in jail, but they’re still hurting her, coming after her at night in her dreams. Even with the therapy she’s been going through, she’s still being hurt in the one place we, her parents, can never protect her — her mind. As I sit there, I can’t help but think how my family is exposed practically every day to headlines and news stories about criminals sexually abusing children, how with the child’s help and a crack legal team, the man gets put away for life. The children are thanked and called heroes for stepping forward and speaking out, the jury is thanked for their time, and the judge hands down his sentence. Or in the case of Richard Taylor, 21 life sentences and no chance of parole. I constantly hear about how “we as a nation” are stepping up the laws and surveillance to catch predators and criminals, including websites where you can type in your address and see if there are any predators living near you. What I don’t hear about though is what happens to the children who were abused. What happens to them once the man or men are put behind bars? According to the Franks Foundation, a group formed from the tragedy of abuse that was experienced by Polly Frank’s children, the rates of abuse are astonishingly high. Higher than most of us as parents want to believe. At least one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused by age 18. This number is made even more frightening when one takes into account the fact that only about 25 percent of the cases are even reported, and of that, only 5 percent of those reported make it to court. If this isn’t frightening enough for parents, the majority of abusers are known by their victims, sometimes even living in the same house as the rest of the family. While I read all these statistics for the children harmed, and I have articles telling me about the capturing and putting away of the people who abused the children, there is a thought that has been keeping me up at night ever since my biological daughter, Melin, was abused by my ex-boyfriend. After the dust settles, how do I, as a parent, pick up the pieces of my child’s life and help them put themselves back together? Once an energetic, outgoing child, Melin is now afraid and overly cautious around members of the opposite sex, even her uncle Paul, who she’s known her entire life. Thankfully, Melin is covered under my parents’ insurance, so we’re able to get her in to see some of the best child psychologists and counselors in the area. My step-daughters are covered under the state medicaid, and therefore qualify for one of the few state programs aimed at offering counselors for children of troubled homes. But I have to wonder… what about the families that don’t have private insurance (with mental health coverage) that don’t qualify for state medicaid? What happens to their children? In a country so concerned with getting the abusers off the streets, it’s scary that it is left to the parents and family to “mend” the abused child. In some cases, because there’s no real help for those who can’t afford it or get government help, the abused becomes the abuser. A close friend of mine, who I refer to often as my adopted brother, is one of those such people. When Max was little, he was abused sexually by his uncles. Not knowing how to deal with the situation, and too frightened to tell his mother (who was in the process of escaping an abusive husband), Max did the only thing he understood when he hit puberty and began feeling sexual urges — he began to sexually abuse his brother. It wasn’t until Max was caught and sent off to a juvenile detention center (where he was repeatedly told he was a horrible person and the scum of the earth), that his uncles were caught and sentenced. To this day, Max has trouble being around children, even though he doesn’t have a single urge to harm or abuse them. Because there was no one there to help him, he was punished for acting on what little he knew. He would ask me several times over the time he lived with me, “I’m scared, Sis. I would never do anything to Melin, or my own kids, but what if they told me was true? What if I am a monster?” He still has nightmares to this day of his abuse, but unfortunately, as an adult, he doesn’t qualify for any of the state programs that would be there to help him. He’s tried putting his life back together, tried to undo the brainwashing that was placed on him while he was in the detention center, but still he struggles. It makes me wonder if things would be different, if he would be different, if there was more focus on helping the children learn to overcome their fears and face their pain instead of just sweeping them under the rug after the abusers are put away. If there were programs out there that instead of just focusing on showing you where the abusers were, also showed you where to get help if your child had been hurt. All three of my daughters (one biological and two step-daughters) have unfortunately been abused. Melin was harmed by someone familiar to her, and Marie and Li still refuse to tell us about who their abusers are. Marie and Li came into the care of my husband and myself after it was discovered that their mother was living with multiple sex offenders, and that the girls had been left alone with said offenders on multiple occasions. I’ve seen the pain in my husband Edward’s eyes when he has to go in and comfort the girls at night, or when we’re taking the girls to their sessions with the counselor. He tries to put on a strong face for them, but I can see it in his posture, he’s just as helpless as I am at removing their pain. He couldn’t be there to protect his babies, and now he’s helpless in trying to help them put their lives together because they’re too frightened to tell who harmed them. Even if we catch the person or persons responsible for Marie and Li’s abuse, it falls completely on our shoulders as parents to help our children mend. I know from my experiences with Melin’s case, that the impotent rage that fills my body, is just the beginning. We are told that as parents, it is our duty to protect and nurture our children, but what happens if we fail? I failed in protecting my daughter from being sexually abused at the age of 4, and now, four years later, she’s still struggling with nightmares, is still shy around men (even family), and even with therapy, is having trouble mending. With Marie and Li, my husband and I don’t know how long they were abused, and they’ve only been with us for a few months. The helpless feeling is exponentially greater in their cases, and it’s apparent in Marie’s case that even with counseling, the abuse has left a lasting effect that we will probably never be able to remove. I hope she won’t become like Max, and abuse people because she was abused, that we caught the damage early enough in the cycle to stop it, but we know that she’s never going to be completely normal after all that has happened to her. As I sit here thinking back on everything, I try to imagine how different things would be if instead of just putting abusers away, or in some cases, putting them to death, the courts and public also took focus on the children, coming together as a community to help the child mend and recover. Would that stop what has come to be called “The Cycle of Abuse”? Is there a way people could help those children regain the trust they lost? The innocence is gone forever once the abuser does what he does, but the trust can be rebuilt through lots of work and patience on the parts of not just the parents (who currently are the only ones responsible for making the child once again a functioning member of the community) but society as a whole. Instead of sweeping the children under the rug and forgetting about them, isn’t it time society brought them to the front and work towards repairing their shattered and broken lives? If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Unsplash photo via Rachael Crowe